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Eight Louisiana towns, each in a separate parish, may be on the brink of having to shut down basic operations because of significant debt, insufficient utility rates and/or loss of a major industrial taxpayer, according to the Legislative Auditor’s Office.

Additionally, four municipalities, are facing serious concerns of operation of their rural water infrastructure systems. One of those is facing the double whammy of concerns about both ongoing operations and about its rural water system.

The 11 are among 18 considered by the state auditor’s office as being “fiscally distressed municipalities, including three whose latest financial statements indicate a negative fund balance.

Those over which the auditor’s office issued a concern for ongoing operations and their parishes include:

  • Grambling (Lincoln);
  • Tallulah (Madison);
  • Baldwin (St. Mary);
  • Basile (Evangeline);
  • Lake Providence (East Carroll);
  • Newellton (Tensas);
  • Washington (St. Landry), and
  • Epps (West Carroll).

Baldwin was also among four municipalities about which concerns were raised over rural water infrastructure committees. Others with rural water infrastructure concerns were:

  • Melville (St. Landry);
  • Tullos (LaSalle), and
  • Powhatan (Natchitoches).

Vidalia in Concordia, Winnsboro in Franklin, and Waterproof in Tensas were also flagged over concerns that their latest financial statements indicate a negative fund balance, or deficit.

Additionally, auditors could not issue an opinion for the most recent year for LeCompte in Rapides Parish and a fiscal review committee is monitoring the town of Clinton in East Feliciana Parish.

The auditor’s office was unable to issue an opinion for the most recent year for the towns of Ball in Rapides Parish and Jonesboro in Jackson Parish.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said the purpose of the list was to provide the public and elected officials at the state and local levels notice of the municipalities’ financial plights so that remedial measures could be undertaken.

“Our goal is to work with each municipality’s elected officials and to provide recommendations to place the municipality on a path to fiscal stability,” the Baton Rouge Business Report quoted Purpera as saying.

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Mike Edmonson, a veteran of 35 years with Louisiana State Police (LSP) and nine years as the state’s top cop, is reported to have been named Program Administrator for Police Patrol by the New Orleans French Quarter Management District (FQMD).

LouisianaVoice received an unconfirmed report on Tuesday that Edmonson, who retired at $128,559 per year after being forced out in March 2017, had been named to the post, advertised by the FQMD earlier this year.

An LSP spokesman said he had heard similar reports but could not confirm them.

Prior to making that request, LouisianaVoice attempted to obtain verbal confirmation from the New Orleans municipal offices but it took six calls to various offices before anyone even answered the phone.

Efforts to confirm the appointment and the salary of the position with the New Orleans mayor’s office by email met with referrals of all public records requests to an outfit called NextRequest.

NextRequest, headquartered in San Francisco, serves as a clearing house for public records requests for governmental agencies, schools, special districts, etc.

Apparently governmental agencies’ rush to privatize services now extends to responding to and complying with public records requests.

Edmonson retired from LSP in March 2017 following a San Diego conference attended by several LSP officials, including four troopers who made the trip in a state vehicle and who took a side trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in 2016.

The investigation of that trip resulted in two of the most convoluted, confusing and controversial—and conflicting—findings by the State Board of Ethics. In April 2018, the ethics board cleared—in secret—the four troopers of any wrongdoing, concluding that they were simply following orders from higher-ups and had taken the vehicle and the side trip with the approval of Edmonson.

Sixteen months later, in August of this year, that same board CLEARED EDMONSON of any wrongdoing for that same trip. Edmonson, it should be noted, was represented before the board by Baton Rouge attorney Gray Sexton who once headed the ethics board.

Sexton said at the time that other agencies investigating Edmonson were dropping their investigations, as well. It’s unclear whether or not the FBI has actually dropped its investigation of Edmonson, who was harshly criticized for his management practices in an audit by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

If reports of Edmonson’s hiring are true, he would find himself working in a familiar—and friendly—atmosphere, given his ties to Robert Watters, owner of RICK’S CABARET.

Edmonson was instrumental in negotiating a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) whereby LSP would provide patrol duties in the French Quarter to augment New Orleans police.

In 2015, French Quarter residents approved a special quarter-cent sales tax increase in the district to pay for a PERMANENT LSP PRESENCE. Thirty-two troopers from Troop N were assigned permanently to the Quarter.

When proceeds from the sales tax proved insufficient, the Louisiana Legislature appropriated an additional $2.4 million to cover the shortfall.

In December 2018, a STATE AUDIT said LSP had not provided proof that $2.4 million in state funds set aside for policing the Quarter was actually spent there, a finding with which LSP disagreed.

If Edmonson has indeed been appointed program manager for the district, he will undoubtedly have interactions with his old agency that he left under a cloud two-and-one-half years ago.

 

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I hadn’t visited John Wayne Culpepper’s Lip-Smackin’ Bar-B-Que Hut, House of Prayer, Used Light bulb Emporium and Snake Farm up in Watson for quite a while, but I found myself in need of a little counseling from Harley Purvis, so I dropped by earlier this morning.

Harley, in case you don’t remember, is my longtime friend who also just happens to be president of the Greater Livingston Parish All-American Redneck Male Chauvinist Spittin’, Belchin’, and Cussin’ Society and Literary Club (LPAARMCSBCSLC).

I was in a foul mood as I approached him where he was seated in his customary spot in the booth in the back in the corner in the dark (apologies to the late Flip Wilson) and my mood was not lightened at the sight of a stranger already seated across from my friend and mentor. Harley spotted me and waved me over. “Have a seat. I want you to meet someone.” So, I slid into the booth next to Harley.

“This here’s Jimbo ‘Snake Eyes’ Hampton,” Harley said by way of introduction. We shook hands as the waitress pored me a cup of coffee. I shook hands with him while simultaneously ordering scrambled eggs, country ham and toast.

“What brings you in today?” Harley asked. He knew I rarely came to see him unless I was upset about something.

“Did you see the news last night?” I asked.

“Yep,” he answered. “And I figure you’re pissed that the state ethics board cleared Mike Edmonson of any wrongdoing. That about it?”

“Mostly confused and yes, a little angry,” I replied.

Edmonson’s attorney Gray Sexton, who once headed the Louisiana Ethics Board but who now represents clients before that same board, had told a Baton Rouge television station that his client, the former State Police Superintendent, had been cleared of all wrongdoing and that other agencies investigating Edmonson were dropping their investigations, as well.

“I don’t understand how that could be,” I said. The investigation centered around that trip to San Diego back in 2016 when four troopers drove a state police SUV there, taking side trips to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon along the way, while charging for overtime they didn’t work. “Back in April 2018, the same ethics board cleared—in secret, I might add—the troopers of any wrongdoing, saying that they were just following orders and had done so with the approval of Edmonson (see that story HERE). But now the board has cleared Edmonson, as well (see that story HERE).

Harley smiled, took a swig of his black coffee and said, “Son, don’t you know that the state police has a whole fleet of them self-drivin’ SUVs? That vehicle obviously drove itself out to San Diego and decided all on its own to take a side trip to Vegas and the Grand Canyon.”

He and Snake Eyes giggled in unison, apparently finding Harley’s explanation amusing. I just looked at both of them. Harley continued, “And them four troopers? Hell, they was hostages an’ couldn’t get outta that vehicle until it stopped at the expensive hotel where they stayed on the trip.” More giggles.

“Well, first of all, I don’t like the ides of Sexton being able to represent clients before the board he once headed,” I said. “He even referred to ‘unsubstantiated’ reports by the media and I can substantiate every single thing I wrote about him. Sexton’s full of crap. And even the state auditor found Edmonson had committed all kinds of violations of state policy.”

LSP AUDIT

AUDIT FINDINGS

“You know as well as I that’s the way they game the system,” Harley explained. “Prosecuting attorneys turn up as criminal defense attorneys and Sexton represents clients before his old board. Judges in cases brought against doctors by the medical board accept campaign contributions from the prosecuting attorneys for the board. Public Service Commission members take contributions from industries they regulate. Same thing for the insurance commissioner getting contributions from insurance companies.”

“But how can the ethics board clear the four troopers AND Edmonson 16 months later? It would seem that somebody would have to fall on their sword.”

“You know the system don’t work that way. They protect theyselves. That’s why they waited 16 months; they figured you’d forget they cleared the troopers after that much time. You think justice is even-handed? Look at ol’ Snake Eyes here. He just got out of prison. Know what he was in for? Tell him, Snake.”

Snake Eyes, a 47-year-old black man, grinned and said, “I was caught with less than three grams of weed. They gave me 13 years but it was reduced to eight years.” (Full disclosure: Snake Eyes is a pseudonym but his story is based on a real person from New Orleans.)

Harley leaned forward and added, “Louisiana ain’t the only place this kind of crap goes on. Remember that case in New Jersey where the judge refused to try a teenage rapist as an adult because he was a Eagle Scout, had good college entry scores and came from a GOOD FAMILY? That Eagle Scout not only raped a girl, but he filmed it and sent the video to his friends.

“And look at Jeffrey Epstein. Back in 2008, he was charged with having sex with underage girls and he got a nice plea deal that gave him 13 months in jail, only he was able to go to his office every day during those 13 months and just stayed in his jail cell at night. And the prosecutor who gave him that deal became Trump’s secretary of labor. An’ Ol’ Snake Eyes here gets eight years for a little pot.

“Then there’s that dentist at the LSU School of Dentistry who blew the whistle on the jaw implants bein’ a health hazard. Did they thank him? Hell, no, they revoked his license and ruined him financially, drove him outta the state, ‘cause he cost LSU money. Problem is, LSU lost more money on the lawsuits from the faulty implants. Same thing for Ivor van Heerden who criticized the Corps of Engineers following Katrina. He posed a threat to LSU federal grants from the Corps, so they run him off, just like they did Steven Hatfill who the FBI named as a person of interest in those anthrax letters even though he had nothing to do with them.

“Here’s another fine example of American justice at its best: The chief deputy of th’ Pima County, Arizona Sheriff’s Department pleaded guilty to laundering half-a-million dollars in RICO funds and got one year’s probation, a $3,000 fine and 100 hours of community service. Half-a-million dollars! And he never spent a day in jail while Snake here gets eight years for a coupla joints wortha weed.”

I started to speak, but he held up his hand. “A Oklahoma woman sold $31 wortha pot and got a 12-year prison sentence. Over in Mississippi, a man wanted the land his neighbors owned, so he instigated charges against the entire family after their son was caught cultivating marijuana on the man’s land. Police tore up their home, seized all the money they had, including the children’s piggy banks and a 90-year-old relative’s social security check. A year later, they raided the home again, arresting the entire family. The daddy got 26 years, the mama got 24 years and all four children received sentences of three to 15 years.

“The LSU fraternity members who were implicated in the binge drinking death of Max Gruver, meanwhile, got 30 DAYS in jail. They had the same lawyer who got Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal off after Ackal had several prisoners die in his custody. But Snake here gets eight years an’ he ain’t hurt nobody.

“And did you know that in Louisiana, if you steal a cell phone, you can get up to six months in jail but if you unknowingly buy a stolen cell phone, you could get up to 10 years for possessing stolen property?”

Harley and Snake Eyes exchanged knowing glances before Harley spoke again. “Son, you set the bar way too high for guvmental ethics. But the sad part is Louisiana ain’t unique. We’re actually pretty typical across the board.

“Jes’ remember the real Golden Rule: Them what has the gold makes the rules. An’ that goes double for the Louisiana so-called ‘Ethics’ Board.”

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Emails sent to the medical staff by the CEO of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center (OLOL) Scott Wester and the CEO of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health Systems (FMOL) Dr. Richard Vath attacked what Vath described as “a troubling article” by the Baton Rouge Business Report which Wester said included “a number of negative allegations about Our Lady of the Lake, and me in particular.”

The Business Report article, by Editor Stephanie Riegel, was published on April 24 and described in detail administrative and financial problems encountered by OLOL and FMOL and hinting at a connection between the firing of former FMOL CEO Michael McBride and the embezzlement of $810,000 from the foundation involving its former chief fundraiser John Paul Funes.

McBride, brought in to shore up FMOL, lasted a year. An outsider, he attempted to oust local power Wester but was himself shown the door.

If all that isn’t confusing enough, consider this: the two emails by Vath and Wester went out on April 23, the day before the article’s online publication.

Damage control isn’t unusual but damage control in advance of a “troubling article” is less common, to put it mildly. Especially in light of a paragraph in Riegel’s story: “Attempts by Business Report to reach Wester for comment were unsuccessful and OLOL officials declined to make him available for an interview for this story.”

It just seems to me that if you’re not going to avail yourself to an opportunity to tell your side of the story, you waive any rights to attack the messenger—especially the day before the story’s publication.

Which, of course, raises the question of just how did Vath and Wester get their hands on an advance copy of the story?

Something about the timing of all this just doesn’t pass the smell test.

For those who might need a refresher or for those living out of the Baton Rouge media coverage area, FMOL and OLOL were rocked late last year by the revelation that $810,000 had been embezzled from a foundation, established by OLOL to raise funds for projects like the new OLOL Children’s Hospital.

Chief fundraiser Funes, whose salary was listed at $283,000, subsequently fired.

But Riegel’s story went further by quoting McBride as saying the Funes scandal “was a symptom,” not the cause, of bigger problems at OLOL. McBride was quoted as attributing low OLOL employee morale to the “good ol’ boys’ network,” adding, “It is no coincidence that seven-plus years of stealing went unreported until new senior leadership was in place.

She described inroads into the Baton Rouge market by Ochsner Health Systems of New Orleans, quoting sources as implying that OLOL’s fees are currently about 25 percent higher than its competition at Ochsner and Baton Rouge General.

Those were the points with which the two emails obtained by LouisianaVoice appear to disagree, although neither email addressed any specific errors in the story, both choosing instead to deliver a “feel good” message aimed at lifting morale and deflecting from points made by Riegel.

“I believe the article paints an inaccurate picture,” Wester wrote. “I could easily make the case about why the ministry is strong and how the Sisters and System’s leadership have us on the right path. Instead, I want to apologize.”

Vath took a similar approach, writing, “The article is misleading and inaccurate in several ways and attempts to use recent leadership transitions as the starting point for several lines of attack against our ministry.”

“When reading the emails, it was impossible to know what Mr. Wester and Dr. Vath were talking about unless one received the Baton Rouge Business Report in published form,” said one OLOL employee.

“Both of the emails are camouflaging and obfuscation, and don’t address any facts or specifics of the article—nor of anything going on at the hospital.

“Just from the form and tone of the two emails, I was pretty confident that I’d agree with over 50 percent of the article even before I actually read it the next day,” the employee said. “Now that I’ve read the article, I agree with almost 100 percent of it—at least the parts I know about from working at OLOL.

“I’d love to have Mr. Wester and Dr. Vath tell us which parts of the article are not factual and/or untrue.”

 

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A prudent individual who follows the news might well be asking what the hell’s going on out at LSU?

It’s certainly a fair question.

The disconcerting stories have been piling up at Louisiana’s flagship university with each new story causing more head-scratching than the last.

In 2015, SIGMA CHI fraternity was kicked off campus for three years following an investigation into drug use and hazing on October 17 at the chapter house. A fraternity member’s overdose death that same day was not connected to incidents at the frat house, investigators determined.

In September 2017, PHI DELTA THETA’s general headquarters announced that it had formally suspended and revoke the charter from its LSU chapter following the binge-drinking and hazing death of Maxwell Gruver despite the fact that the fraternity had an alcohol-free housing policy and a blanket anti-hazing policy in place.

Then apparently unable to see the writing on the wall, DELTA KAPPA EPSILON (DKE), better known as the Dekes made infamous by the movie Animal House, got its charter revoked by the national organization following the arrest of nine present and former DKE members following reports of hazing that involved urinating on pledges and forcing them to lie in ice water, on glass.

Without attempting to minimize the gravity of those incidents—students died, after all—binge drinking has always existed in frat houses as boys away from their mommies and daddies for the first time, go more than a little crazy on testosterone overload.

But what about the adults at the Ole War Skule? How do they explain their unrestrained behavior of late?

First there was the LSU basketball program that came under the dual microscopes of the NCAA and the FBI. Head coach WILL WADE was suspended after FBI wiretaps caught him allegedly discussing payments to a recruit with sports agent Christian Dawkins. The player, Javonte Smart is a standout freshman guard.

Actually, Wade was not suspended until he refused to meet with LSU administrators to discuss the investigation. Wade initially agreed to talk but canceled when he learned NCAA investigators would be in the meeting.

But the basketball probe took an ugly turn.

Before news of the basketball investigation became public knowledge, another scandal rocked Baton Rouge when it was learned that JOHN PAUL FUNES was arrested for embezzling more than $800,000 from the Our Lady of the Lake Foundation.

Funes made more than $283,000 per year as president of the foundation which is the fundraising arm of OLOL hospital that raises money for such projects as the new OLOL Children’s Hospital.

In addition to allegedly embezzling the money from the foundation, he reportedly also gave foundation funds to the parent of an LSU ATHLETE, supposedly as salary for a job.

The dust still hasn’t settled on the OLOL-LSU basketball drama even as new revelations keep popping up like some kind of Whack-a-Mole game of financial chicanery.

On March 19, a state audit revealed that the LSU SCHOOL of VETERINARY MEDICINE paid a faculty member more than $400,000 in salary and benefits over more than three years even though the “employee” failed to carry out his employment duties from August 2015 to September 2018.

Despite being told by LSU to appear for work for the Fall 2018 semester, and despite his failure to do so, he was still employed as of January 24.

“The faculty member knowingly received 38 months of LSU salary and benefits without performing commensurate work,” the audit said.

So, how in the name of fiduciary responsibility was this allowed to happen? Who was minding the store out at the School of Veterinary Medicine? Someone has to be held accountable for this.

Three days after that story made news, on March 22, it was learned that four LSU administrators earning six-figure incomes had RESIGNED after failing to comply with a state law that requires that they register their vehicles in Louisiana and obtain a Louisiana driver’s license.

The law was passed in 2013 at the urging of the late C.B. Forgotston in a bill sponsored by then State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite).

The four were identified as:

  • Andrea Ballinger, chief technology officer: $268,000 per year;
  • Matthew Helm, assistant vice-president in information technology services, $202,000;
  • Susan Flanagin, director in information technology services, $149,000, and
  • Thomas Glenn, director of information technology services, $14,000.

All four are from Illinois and three of the four worked part of their time for LSU from Illinois

In addition to their salaries, three of the four were provided stipends to help with moving expenses. Ballinger received $20,000; Helm $15,000, and Flanagin $5,000. So, just how were those moving expenses used by the three if they didn’t physically move here?

All four said had they known of the law requiring registering their vehicles and obtaining state driver’s licenses, they would not have taken the LSU jobs.

So, this was not explained to them when they were hired?

And persons making six-figure incomes are allowed to work for a state university while living three states away? Sweet.

Universities, by their nature, tend to be an autonomous part of the communities in which they are located, impenetrable to the outside world, but this is ridiculous.

Someone has to answer for these lapses and that someone begins and ends at the top of the food chain at LSU: President F. King Alexander on whose watch all the above events have occurred.

LouisianaVoice wrote extensively about ALEXANDER almost exactly six years ago when it became evident that he was in line to become the next LSU president.

King was appointed during the Jindal administration and Gov. Edwards indicated he wanted to keep King in place. Was that a wise decision in retrospect?

Former chairman of the Louisiana Board of Regents RICHARD LIPSEY is calling for the firing of both Alexander and Athletic Director Joe Alleva for what he calls a “lack of leadership.”

Alleva, you may remember, was athletic director at Duke before coming to LSU. While at Duke, rape charges were brought against the school LACROSSE team, charges that proved to be a hoax and which ultimately cost the local district attorney his law license over his eagerness to prosecute the players.

Alleva, meanwhile, didn’t even wait for charges to be filed. He cratered early and dismantled the lacrosse program before due process could be carried out.

Fast forward to LSU, 2015. Alleva badly botched the Les Miles situation, hovering on the verge of firing the likable coach before Miles saved his job with a 19-7 win over TEXAS A&M. But the die had been cast and everyone knew it was a matter of time before Alleva, who was born with a serious birth defect (no spine) would cave again to the big money donors who wanted Miles’s head.

Four games into the 2016 season, Alleva PULLED THE PLUG and fired Miles following a heartbreaking 18-13 loss at Auburn, proving once and for all he possessed the subtlety and tact of an air raid siren at a wake.

I don’t know if Lipsey’s recommendation is the needed remedy at LSU. The Board of Supervisors, after all, was appointed to oversee operations of the LSU system and not to be mere puppets of the governor.

Oh, wait, my mistake. Turns out they were.

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